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rebuildamerica2020

Dear Mr. Biden,
You now have what you’ve wanted. You are the de facto nominee for the Democratic party. I could say a lot about how I see that, but none of what I might say will change the facts. Our voting choices are you or Mr. Trump, or some protest vote, or not voting at all. Right now, I’m inclined to not vote at all, to be honest. I dislike the tactics the Dems used to install you as the nominee. I disliked you blustering and belittling people who disagreed with you in the debates. That might score points with the moderators, but it didn’t score points with me. But still, there you are. You’ve said nice things about Mr. Sanders, and about his movement. I hope you meant them.

Right now, I doubt it. I think you’re saying what you think I want to hear. I doubt those words will last past the election. Given the alternative, I hope you win, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope. I hope you prove me wrong. If you don’t, I probably just won’t vote. What would be the point? We need someone strong enough to combat the virulence of the GOP. I don’t think you’re that man. “Reaching across the aisle” is meaningless when the aisle has been shifted to the lawn on the right side of the Capitol.

I feel my vote has been stolen. If you want it, you’re going to have to prove that you will actively, passionately, and vigorously pursue the policies that are life and death to millions of us–one-payer healthcare, free college, and student loan amendment or forgiveness, paid sick leave, climate change, preserving the environment, financial regulation, racial, gender, common-sense gun regulations, and age equality, and legal reform to ensure that the laws work equally for all of us.

Right now–yes, during your “campaign,” which is now officially over for the primary–I want to see and hear you proposing and working to enact the reforms that Mr. Sanders has been advocating to stave off ruin for millions. Here’s a crazy thought–how about you work with him on those things? How about you use your brand new bully pulpit to fight for us, the people you’re asking to vote for you? Donald Trump said something last week about governors–he said that Federal support goes both ways–the governors who want Federal support have to be nice to him. He was dead wrong, of course, as he so often is. The governors did not get their positions because of his vote. They owed nothing to him.

But that was him. This is us, now, Mr. Biden–you and the people you are asking to elect you president. We do have the right to elect someone who will fight for our best good. We do have the right to expect that, if elected, you will be our advocate in the White House. So I’m asking. What are you going to do to earn my vote? And then, if you get it, what are you going to do to assure us all that you’re worthy of the trust we’ve placed in you? Who will you fight for?

Will you fight for the billionaires who fund much of your campaign? Will you pursue some demented form of “trickle-down” economics that only enriches those at the top? Will you continue to bail out banks, oil companies, and corporations that have already been the benefit of government largesse not once or twice, but over and over? Or will you look beyond the walls that money and political position have built around you to the millions of us who lie beyond those walls? Will we be real and worth fighting for once the election’s over? Will what’s happening to us out here in the small towns, the farms, and the just-barely-afloat small businesses keep you awake at night? Will you use our lives as your North Star, the guiding force of your actions? Or will you use us as political props until it’s no longer necessary to have our grubby, poor, undecorative selves on the platform with you?

Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.” You might be nicer than Mr. Trump (that’s a pretty low bar, but I suspect true). But that’s not enough. The millions of us out in flyover land have been living with the evils perpetrated on us by the greedy, and by the “good men” in government who have done nothing. The time is past for that. We need warriors to fight for us, not nice guys who don’t want to rock the boat.

You want my vote, Mr. Biden? Prove it. Earn it by putting yourself on the line not just for me, but for all the millions of us out here who are losing our health insurance with our jobs, who are facing rent and mortgage payments we have no money to meet, who have children we struggle to feed, who have no bargaining power because the unions have been busted. We don’t need nice Uncle Joe. We need crabby Uncle Joe, who is pissed as all hell and is coming to kick ass and take names. We need a warrior. Are you that man? If I give you my vote, what will you do to show me you’ve been worthy of my trust?

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There’s a lot of talk these days about the big choices this election holds for all of us. It’s true–the stakes in this election could hardly be higher. Like everyone else, I’ve watched as spin became lies, was exposed as such, and somehow still remained a part of our political conversation. The cumulative effect has been, I suspect, a sort of national case of disassociation–we have been asked to believe twelve impossible things before breakfast, and, rather than calling bulls*t, we have tried. Oh, we have tried.

I can’t speak for you, but for myself, I have to say that the result hasn’t been pretty. There’s the perennial, “Hey, wait…” reaction when I hear one of the tired old canards trotted out and whipped round the track for the bazillionth time. There’s the anger that we never seem to move beyond this. There’s the frustration at the thought that millions of Americans are apparently being taken in by a group who has openly disavowed any ties to reality. And most of all, there’s the sneaking fear that I’m going crazy.

This political campaign defies logic. A candidate who has flipped and flopped and flailed around and openly taken to political whoring in pursuit of the Oval Office should have been laughed out of the race by now. But he hasn’t. And I think the reason is really very simple. I think the reason why Mitt Romney is still in the race is because while those of us in the dwindling middle class all want pretty much the same things–we want social and financial stability, a secure old age, college education for ourselves and our children, and the hope that when we leave we’ll have enough to leave a little behind–on a deeper level we really only want one thing–we want to be safe.

The question is, how do we achieve that? I am reminded of my medieval English lit class. Medieval English literature reflects the two prevalent cultures in Britain at the time: Anglo-Saxon culture, which had its roots in North Central Europe, where winters were savage, life was harsh, and wolves were fierce; and Celtic culture, which had its roots in the softer, milder climates of southern Europe. Anglo-Saxon literature’s most famous poem is Beowulf. Celtic poetry is less well-known, but much of it is short, lyric poems about the beauties of nature, myth, and tradition.

Beowulf happens in a dark, gloomy, savage, cold, and dangerous world where monsters prowl. Safety is to be found by shutting out everyone and every thing except for one’s sworn brothers and fellow knights.. The horror of the poem comes when Grendel, the monster from the mire, actually invades the hall, Heorot.

The world of the Celtic poems is very different. Many seem to have been written by hermit monks, who lived largely solitary in small huts out in nature. The poems speak of the joy of sunny days, the beauty of birds singing in bushes, the pleasure to be found in watching one’s house cat hunt for a mouse. They tell snippets of legends, fragments of stories. These poems speak of a world in which safety is found not by walling out the world, but by making one’s self a part of it, becoming a piece of the whole, forming bonds of love, friendship, and support with the animals, plants, and people that make up the world.

Which brings me to this campaign. Mr. Romney’s worldview is in many respects akin to the Anglo-Saxon view. He has spent most of his life in a world preserved by exclusion. He has built his safety behind walls of wealth, religion, and society. He sees financial success as something one achieves on one’s own, or with the help of one’s parents. One builds a wall, and then builds one’s success behind it, locked away from the rest of the world. One succeeds or fails on one’s own (or with the help of the folks). Professionally he has operated in a world famed for secrecy–call it “confidentiality,” if you will. One of the ongoing stories of this campaign has been his refusal to disclose details of his professional dealings–or even the customary number of tax returns. (He demanded the returns of his VP pick, but never mind.) When he speaks of international relations he speaks less of alliances than of a “strong military.” He doesn’t offer many details, but then again, I suspect they aren’t really important to him. What is important is the wall. Some members of the GOP are actually pushing for the erection of a literal wall along our southern border. Stripping all this down to fundamentals, what we are left with is that for Mr. Romney, safety lies in Heorot–America huddled around a warm fire behind tall, thick walls, hoping and praying that Grendel never gets in.

President Obama, on the other hand, sees safety less in walls than in alliances. His life has been lived as a global citizen in some respects–he spent his childhood, in part, in Indonesia, and in multi-cultural Hawaii. He was a member of a non-traditional family. When he left school he became a community organizer, helping poor and middle-class people form alliances. When he speaks of international policy he speaks of building global alliances, of acting in concert with other nations for our mutual good. When he speaks of domestic policy he speaks of our commonality, of the growing separation between rich and poor that’s killing us socially and economically, of the need for all of us to have a certain level of safety, if any of us are to be truly safe.

I don’t see this as an election about right-and-left politics. Mr. Romney has, if anything, shown himself to be a man who governs in response to the deepest pockets and loudest voices. He has played the idealogue this campaign, but I suspect he cares less about ideology than he does about the bottom line. He’s a money guy, and he wants to be sure that all the guys in his “in” group are taken care of. This isn’t politics. It’s closer to nepotism. By the same token, President Obama has been more centrist than progressive in his policy. How much of that centrism is due to GOP obstructionism we will probably never know, but the fact remains that when we set aside the talk and look at what has been done the result has been centrist, mildly progressive policy domestically–and quite hawkish action militarily, at least in some respects.

Here’s the thing about medieval English poetry–the stormy, savage world of Beowulf and the warm, sunny, placid world of the Celtic lyric verses were both talking about the same part of the world–the British Isles. The difference in the world each poet sees reflects not what lies around him, but what he sees in himself. That’s this election. Both men claim to be offering us what we want most–safety, but if we can extrapolate from their past lives and their prevailing spoken remarks (I’m purposely excluding campaign stuff, because I really don’t see how we can evaluate Mr. Romney in a meaningful way if we include it–his spoken remarks have been inconsistent, nonsensical, and mutually exclusive in many cases) we can see that the men believe that safety is best achieved in opposite ways.

Mr. Romney believes that we are safest behind strong walls, excluding everyone we have decided is not like us, caring only for those who are inside the walls with us. He sees our national life as an exercise in wall-building–making the walls bigger and stronger, and taller, and if doing that means that we take supplies from those who are not within our walls, well, that’s just the way it is. Likewise, when time, money, and resources must be spent everything goes to building the wall. The idea of investing for the coming winter, of seeing to it that those who serve the “in” group have enough to eat and warm clothes to wear, comes a distant second. What matters is the “in” group, and the wall.

President Obama believes that we are more than our walls–that while a good wall is necessary, true safety can only be achieved by recognizing that we are part of a larger community–by forming alliances, by learning to appreciate the diversity and beauty that lies around us, but understanding that we are safest when our social safety net is wide-flung, strong, and inclusive. He believes we are safest when we have good, strong walls–and can navigate the world both inside and out. After all, Beowulf only manages to deal with Grendel and his mother when he leaves Heorot. Even for Beowulf, walls ultimately failed him. And I fear that Mr. Romney’s walls will fail us, too. Grendel has learned how to find his way inside our walls. And he has some pretty scary bombs out there in the mire.

The last four years have been hard ones. I tried–and failed–to get my house re-financed. I was threatened with foreclosure. My credit card interest rates drove my balances so high that ultimately I was left with no choice but bankruptcy. I’ve been sick–I was recently diagnosed with a life-threatening (but fortunately very treatable) condition. I still don’t have health insurance. There have been times when I couldn’t buy my kid shoes. These years have been hard. And I watched as many of the measures that were supposed to help were watered down and subverted by men more concerned with making sure that all the gold stayed in Heorot.

But here’s the thing. These years have also taught me that I am surrounded by a townful of caring, loving people. They are my safety net, and I am part of theirs. We are not rich. But we understand how to care for each other. And we understand that we are better together. At some point, we have all faced the question of how we will be safe, and we have all recognized that safety lies less in bank balances than it does in relationships. We have all made peace with the idea that we are our brothers’, sisters’, and world’s keepers. And that’s why I’m voting for President Obama again–not because I agree with everything he’s done, but because I believe that we share a vision–we believe that we can best keep each of us safe by keeping all of us safe, inside our walls, and out.

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I just finished reading an article about Mitt Romney’s Woman Problem, and it got me to thinking about my instinctive “ish” reaction to the man. Logically there’s no reason for it. He’s handsome. He’s well-groomed. He’s wealthy. In short, he should have those of us who like such men drooling into our salads, right? So why is it that my first instinct upon seeing his image is “ish,” and the second is a cutting remark? Mother Corn had her own opinions about this (and I’d suggest you go read her article), but speaking for myself, I think it’s a combination of factors.

Before I start I should say that, though I lean Librul these days, I am somewhat troubled by my instinctive responses to Mr. Romney. I don’t believe our guts should be electing our presidents. I think it’s important to sort this out–to understand where the response is coming from, so I can better judge its validity. So–bear with me–this is probably going to say more about me than it does about Mr. Romney–but then again, it could be that I’m not alone in needing to understand this a bit better.

So, why does Mitt Romney have a woman problem at my house?

1. He reminds me of the men in the fundamentalist religion in which I grew up. In those years, our church shared a good many of the cultural values of the Mormons–women were seen as distinctly inferior, and their roles were in many ways very limited. Men were our spiritual, social, cultural, and professional superiors. As late as the late 1980’s my mother advised me against pursuing my Ph.D. because “men don’t like women who are smarter than they are.” It would be easy to dismiss this as the opinion of one woman, had it not been for all of the church-produced books girls were given explaining their “place,” and how to attract and keep a man. Those books absolutely agreed with my mother–men didn’t like women who challenged them socially, intellectually, culturally, or spiritually.

The men–and boys–I knew growing up were shaped by that in profound ways. Many were good, kind, men–who simply assumed that women were support staff, so to speak. We were to defer to them, to accept subordinate positions and lower salaries–even if our real responsibilities qualified us for much more–and be “protected” from the more challenging–and more rewarding–roles in life. We were to be kept safe at home, tucked up in cotton wool, and referred to as “the girls,” or “the ladies.” We might be cute, in the way that a poodle is cute–but we were never, ever equal, and while the good, kind men might listen to us and take our wishes into account, that was because they were good, kind men, not because our opinions and intelligence deserved equal weight.

There were the good, kind men. And then there were the others, the men for whom keeping women “in their place” wasn’t just a cultural issue, but a deep, driving need. They were the men who used women–to keep their houses clean, their children safe and occupied, their laundry done, and their sexual needs met. They were the men who believed that women as a gender were to blame for all the evils of the world, and that if a woman was unhappy, well, hadn’t God said that they would bear their children in sorrow? For them, a man stood in the place of God, and one of his rights was not protecting women, but seeing to it that they paid, and paid, and paid.

These were the men who raped women and then belittled and shamed them, who laughed and bragged about their sexual conquests even while they insisted on virginity from their brides, who spoke often about how women should “keep silent in church,” about how a man might listen to the arguments put forth by his spouse and girl children, but in the end, all power, and all decisions, rested with him.

When I look at Mitt Romney, I see a man who grew up in a church that fosters a culture very much like that, and I wonder how deep those values go with him. What makes all this harder is that the examples he puts forward to demonstrate how very much he can understand and relate to people like me only serve to drive the wedge deeper.

Take, for example, the umbrage he took at the suggestion that his wife, Ann, “hadn’t worked a day in her life.” This was spun as a slur against stay-at-home moms everywhere. The reality is that while Ann Romney may well have responsibilities, they are very different from the responsibilities of stay-at-home moms–or even go-to-work moms–who don’t have the wealth to hire housekeeping and childcare help, if they want them. Whether or not Mrs. Romney chooses to avail herself of that help is beside the point; the truth is that the “work” she does is work she has chosen. For many of us, work is not an option–it is a daily necessity, and it must be done in addition to child nurturing. Most of us are forced to work both outside and inside our homes, raise our children, and, if we are in a relationship, nurture that as well. The work Mrs. Romney does, she does by choice.

And good for her–it must be nice to be in that position. Or maybe not–I’m sure Mrs. Romney struggles with her own challenges. But it’s just plain silly for the Romneys to pretend that Mrs. Romney’s challenges can be equated with the challenges less affluent women face. On the day that someone reveals that Mrs. Romney does all of the cleaning, cooking, carpool, errands, childtending, shopping, and bookkeeping for her family singlehandedly–and on a strict, limited budget–on that day the Romney’s can compare her “work” with that of the vast majority of stay-at-home moms. It’s simply not the same, and asserting that it is makes the Romneys look like spoiled children who have no clue how the rest of us really live.

The pathetic story of the young Romneys forced to struggle through college on nothing but a trust fund and stock sales is another case in point. To refer to themselves as “starving students,” as Ann Romney does, is insulting to those of us who survived college on summer wages, winter jobs, limited parental aid, student loans, and ramen. They were not “starving students.” It’s time for them to acknowledge that, give thanks for it, and open their eyes to the fact that their privileged experience is in no way comparable to that of most of us.

I hesitate to start listing “gaffes”–let me only say that many of them only serve to reinforce the central truth not that the Romneys are very wealthy, but that their good fortune has created a safe, privileged bubble in which they have lived their life. And good for them. I think that if you asked them honestly, they’d probably say the same thing. They have lived their life in a world of privilege, and have shown no sign of wanting to change that–or of moving out of their world far enough to understand the realities those not born into privilege face daily. It’s insulting and disingenuous for them to now try to “have their cake and eat it” by pretending that their cushioned existence is comparable to the average American’s life.

And I think that’s the crux of the matter for me–I don’t expect a presidential candidate to be “like me”–I would actually hope that he or she would have a broader, more encompassing grasp of a great many things than I do. The fact that the Romneys are wealthy isn’t the issue, either–most of our Presidents have been wealthy. I think, for me, the issue is that Mr. Romney’s continued efforts to reveal how very much “like me” he is only serve to underscore the differences between us–and reinforce the idea that Mr. Romney neither sees nor understands them.

Perhaps most telling is that he repeatedly overlooks the human cost of “good business.” For Mr. Romney, the ultimate measuring stick is the bottom line–in his work for Bain Capital that was right and appropriate, to a point. He was tasked with earning returns for investors. The fact that many of the policies he instituted might have hurt a lot of people was just collateral damage in the pursuit of that goal. His remarks that he “likes firing people,” that “corporations are people,” and the list goes on and on, only serve to underscore this.

It’s not that I’m against progress–I believe companies need to operate efficiently, and that often they don’t. I understand that some business changes are going to adversely affect some people. But when people are put out of work so investors can reap obscenely large rewards, I have to wonder about the value system that makes that all right. I have to wonder how much thought is being given to helping the workers being put out of work to find other ways of supporting their families.

I suspect not much–because, after all, in Mr. Romney’s world, we all have trust funds, and stocks we can sell. We all have parents who have, if not millions, at least enough to be able to spot us the start-up money for a new business without dipping into their retirement. We all have household and child care staff to tend our multiple homes, if we want it. Why should he worry? And that, I think, is Mr. Romney’s biggest woman problem in my house.

It’s not that he’s wealthy–it’s that he can’t understand that the rest of us aren’t.

 

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Tonight The Boy and I were watching “Which Die Is That Again?” on YouTube and laughing like hyenas and visiting their webstore and plotting future purchases (a t-shirt that says “Game Master: Because My Shirt Says so”) when suddenly, out of the clear blue sky, he said, “Play that Sarah Palin song, Mom.”

“Which one?” I asked, after a brief scan of the memory banks.

“You know, the one with the man and the lady just staring into the camera,” he said.

And it all came back to me.

And so for today, join me, if you will, in the Wayback Machine, which we’ll set for late summer, 2008.

But before we go, a brief word about some of the unsung heroes of our modern society, the nameless, faceless, drones who sit in windowless cubicles in some featureless gray tower from which there is no ingress or egress except at shift changes, view the misspelled and often erroneous word strings we type into the “search” bars, dive into a massive vault of old electronic files (I picture it sort of like Scrooge McDuck’s money vault, but with thumb drives) and emerge clutching a clean, shining byte of information in their trembling, pasty hand. Often it’s not the right byte, which is how we happened upon the Sarah Palin song in the first place, but this time, armed only with the information that I wanted a song about SP, sung by a man and woman sitting in front of unfortunate orange wallpaper, staring into the camera my search bar minion came up with the right answer in under a minute. We listened to it again, and loved it as much as we did the first time and so, for your viewing pleasure, and because I remembered to copy the “share” code before I closed the window, without further ado, I present, “The Sarah Palin Song Sung By A Man And A Lady Staring Into The Camera.” It’s not what YouTube calls it, but hey, that’ll get you there. Enjoy. Thank you, Search Bar Minion.

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